Lessons from my Fitbit

Like so many people, (over 20 million devices sold as of May 2015) I, too, have succumbed to the Fitbit craze.

After wearing the device for a couple months, there are several things I’ve learned.

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Desk Job Does NOT Equal Steps – During the work day, I get most of my steps walking to and from my car. Other than that, there’s a lot of sitting. Maybe the occasional walk to the bathroom (where I then sit). Or the stroll to a meeting. Where I then sit.

Buzzing me every hour because I haven’t hit the minimum hourly steps is annoying. Yes, I know I’ve been sitting here for an hour and a half. I also wish I wasn’t trapped in this meeting.

Not so sure about the whole treadmill desk thing. And, looking at the price tag on them, I don’t see my company springing for one anytime soon. Unless, of course, we can justify it with some sort of cost savings initiative. Maybe they’ll link my laptop’s power supply to the treadmill.

Of course, there is also the human hamster ball, complete with plans on how to make one yourself. I can see that going over well with corporate America.

 

Reading and Writing are Not the Most Athletic Hobbies – Not trading my home desk or my comfy reading recliner for the human hamster ball, however.

 

Owning a Fitbit Does Not Magically Make One Love Athletic Hobbies – How I wish it did! Still hate jogging, still love reading.

 

Simply Owning a Fitbit Does Not Confer Fitness – Not that I thought it would, but it would’ve been nice.

 

One Cannot Log Steps When One Forgets – Their Fitbit in the bathroom, at the charging station, in the bottom of their drawer. Although, sometimes I wonder if it’s my subconscious at work. Trying to trick me into thinking I took more steps than I did. The weekly e-mail telling you your “progress” however, never forgets how few steps you took. And that day I forgot to wear it isn’t going to make up for the 30,000 steps I’m missing this week.

 

Amazing How few “steps” that 30 minutes on the elliptical produces. – I guess you’re supposed to be concentrating on the workout and trying to go fast, rather than concentrating on the story on your Kindle or how you can jam a book in the book holder and turn the pages while your arms go back and forth.

 

None of Your Friends Will “Friend” You on the Fitbit App – Because they’re all working the same desk job and enjoying the same recliner and aren’t ready to admit to you how few steps they’re taking. Not that you want them to friend you, because then they’ll see how little you’re doing!

Book Review: Lord of Scoundrels

Rating: 4/5

Title: Lord of Scoundrels

Author: Loretta Chase

Romance

I saw the rave reviews, so I picked up the book. While I liked it, not sure it was worth the hype and I’d probably have liked it better if I wasn’t expecting so much.

 

Characters

Jessica- she is, of course, perfect. Absolutely perfect. Beautiful, slim, elegant. A femme fatal. And a spinster because … Well, I’m not sure why. But she did help raise 10 male cousins, so not only perfect, but she can shoot, punch, and enjoys wrestling. Really, truly perfect. Oh, and she finds priceless art pieces others overlook. And knows all about “the deed” even though she’s a virgin. I liked her dialogue, and the fact she owns up to her feelings. I mean, she’s so perfect she demands they give her husband’s illegitimate son a home with them.

Lord Dain– had a horrible childhood and is reflected in the man he is. He shuns polite society and has set himself up as the lord of sin and debauchery, taking any fool who goes along with him to ruin. He uses laughter to deflect from his true feelings, and he drinks and whores to soothe his loneliness. He’s got the strength and arrogance of an alpha lead, but with these tragic undertones so he can be redeemed in the end.

 

Plot

Jessica’s brother is in over his head with Dain, and Jessica is in Paris to bring her brother home. She meets Dain at an antiques shop, and sparks fly. This is where she unearths a rare and very valuable Russian icon that no one else notices.

When she refuses to sell the icon to Dain, and they make a public scene, Dain decides to destroy her brother to get even with her.

When she storms his house to get her brother back, more romantic hijacks ensue. Somehow, after a couple of meetings, their lust overcomes their sense and they are kissing in the rain on a public street.

Of course Society wants to see Dain fall, so they invite the two of them to a ball and make sure everyone knows they’re both invited. Why either of them shows is beyond me, but they do, and the sexual attraction gets the better of them. At a ball. Where they know everyone is watching them.

Surprise! They get caught. Dain acts the scoundrel and leaves her knowing he’s ruined her and she will never be accepted into polite society again.

With nowhere to turn, Jessica hunts Dain down and shoots him. She is such a good shot, she only gives him the flesh wound she intended. After their lover’s quarrel, of course the Parisian authorities press no charges… Not sure what she thought this would get her.

The nobleman courting Jessica’s grandmother gets her in touch with an attorney who helps her bring a lawsuit against Dain for defamation among other things, and demands recompence so Jessica can afford to go far away and start a new life after ruining her.

Dain says for that price, he’ll marry her and take breeding rights as well. He’s such a great catch…

Insulting as it is, she has to accept as the offer of marriage nullifies her lawsuit. If she scrapes together her pride and says no, she’ll be a penniless outcast.

They’re wed, and while the sex between them is apparently amazing, Dain continues to shut her out emotionally despite how much he loves her and wants her to love him.

They end of the story is how he comes to terms with his childhood, his love for her, and his illegitimate son all so she’ll love him.

Overall, the plot was thin, but not uncommon in Regency Romance. And, frankly, I’m okay with that. I have seen too many outlandish plots as of late. While I can accept that the plot is simple, the heroine was a bit too perfect. If you go for the brooding, alpha male, this will be your thing.

Hero Analysis: Flaws

Mariah Avix again posed a great question. What hero flaws are generally “okay” and don’t turn me off as a reader.

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Hi. I’m superman. I’m perfect except when exposed to Kryptonite.

 

Thinking through this made me realize that in many, many novels I’ve read, the heroes don’t have too many flaws. As I think through these books, and the heroes I’ve liked, here are some of the flaws I’ve seen that worked for the character without making me dislike the character:

Demanding. Setting extremely high standards for themselves and those around them, sometimes too high.

  • In Finders Keepers, the Captain was known for being extremely difficult and held his crew up to the same high standards he held himself to.
  • I’ve seen this is several other books, such as the The Bride. He takes responsibility for his entire Clan, keeping peace, etc.

 

Bucking Society. This one usually works when something perceived as appropriate by  historical society differs with today’s views. For example:

  • A hero that spends most of his time with his wife and family rather than away from them. (Most Regency)
  • A hero that accepts being considered crazy because he married for love and still loves his wife. (Accidentally Compromising the Duke)
  • A hero that dances with his wife to the exclusion of all others.(Accidentally Compromising the Duke)
  • A society that forces a woman who was raped to be shunned and viewed as a “soiled dove” (The Study of Seduction).

Interestingly, I recently read Loving a Lost Lord and the Madness of Ian Mackenzie (book reviews are coming, I promise!). I rated both of these books very high. The first dealt with a duke whose father was English and whose mother was Indian. This was a central issue of the book although it was mostly glossed over. This was treated as a “flaw” for the historical time frame, with the heroine loving him without regard to his heritage. The second had an autistic hero. The author did an amazing job with the hero, keeping him powerful, brilliant and in control. Yet, he clearly had flaws. Such as being unable to meet people’s eyes, shunning large groups, and being unable to lie.

 

Ruthless. Granted, this tends to be a trait the hero has to put aside for the heroine. It always makes me a little uneasy as I am not a fan of the “being saved by a good woman’s love” trope. But ruthlessness can really work. I am in the middle of reading Marrying Winterbourne, and he is most assuredly ruthless. You see ruthless heroes in Stephanie Laurens’ work as well.

 

Selfishness. No great examples of this in recent fiction I’ve read, but Han Solo always comes to mind.  Granted, he overcomes it by Return of the Jedi. Character arc?

 

Arrogant. Thinking of Darcy here in Pride and Prejudice.  Again, he gets over himself somewhat by the end, but that’s the point of a character arc, right?

 

I’m sure there are more. What do you all think? What character flaws can a character have or grow out of that you can still find them a good hero?

Character Analysis: Heroes Part 2

After taking a look at heroes I didn’t like, the next step is to take a look at those I did like. Much like with heroines, when I first started this post, I thought the heroes I liked would be the exact opposite of what I didn’t like.

It turned out a little more complex than that.

I have to have the basics: no brooding, no jerks, and a character doing something. But as with the heroine, when I think through what I about the characters I like, there’s more to it.

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The Bride – The hero is a powerful Scotsman, who may be considered barbaric, but he takes care of his people and protects his wife. He is physically capable and a good leader.

The Highwayman – While I didn’t like him because the author took it too far, his cold, rational and eminently practical persona is appealing.

Finders Keepers – I loved the hero. Yes, he was a powerful captain in the Imperial “star fleet”. But he was smart, extremely capable, and a demanding commander. He had a touch of the cold and aloof, but he also didn’t spite himself when he realized he loved the heroine.

The Study of SeductionWhile I hated the heroine, I liked the hero. He was practical, not willing to be swayed by the whimsy of other people’s opinions, and he was actively trying to help and then protect the heroine. He was smart, well-educated, and could build metronomes.

A Gentleman’s Honor – This hero is one of those “perfect” types, but perfect for a reason. He is the alpha male without ever being a jerk. He protects the heroine from the beginning. Yes he’s attracted to her, but there’s more than that as well. There’s his honor. And what’s right. He is intelligent, physically perfect, and acquainted with the rougher things in life. He firmly believes in his obligations to take care of the people on his lands and his duty to serve because of his birth-rites.

 

So, what does it take for me to actually like a hero?

Competence – I like characters that are actively out there doing something and being good at it. I do not find bumbling or indecision endearing. Intelligent characters, especially, seem to be my favorites. Part of this competence is accepting their feelings, even if they don’t like them, and dealing with them. In the romance genre, the hero has to be believably in love by the end of the story.

Need to Protect – I am actually surprised at myself by this one, but there it is. I strongly favor heroes who protect rather than exploit. They are the “good guys” although bad-boy characters can be fun, they’re fun when they use their bad-boy skills to be the protector the heroine needs. Yeah, I know. Not exactly the feminist ideals I hold myself to, but there it is.

Honorable Leader – The ability to command respect is important in a hero, but so is the ability to turn his back on society’s opinion and do what’s right. A strong moral fiber to keep the hero on the high road rather than becoming a villain.

 

 

Book Review: The Rogue Not Taken

Rating: 2/5

Title: The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel, Book 1)

Author: Sarah Maclean

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Plot Synopsis

The story is basically the Kardashians or whatever celebrity scandal is currently the rage, but set in the Regency Era.

The heroine is the youngest of 7 sisters, all whose names begin with S. Their father is “new” money, and he won the title of earl off the Prince Regent in a card game. “Society” looks down on them, but there’s the money involved, and, of course, the fun of the gossip papers that the seven sisters love to be in. Well, all of the sisters except the heroine.

I wanted to like the story. But, I strongly dislike celebrity anything. The only celebrity news I follow is whatever headlines catch my attention at the check out lane in the grocery store. Most of which make me roll my eyes.

 

Characters

I did like the heroine.

The youngest of the sisters, she is the least scandalous. Although she does push her eldest sister’s husband, a duke no less, into a pond for fornicating at a party with a woman that wasn’t her sister. Oh, and her sister is pregnant with the duke’s child that he openly denies is his. He’s a real treasure.

Of course her pushing him into the pond causes outrage, not at him being caught with his trousers down. I was not even remotely sold on every member of the aristocracy pulling their investments out of her father’s hands because of it. This totally felt Author-God to me to force the plot.

Why? Well, they needed coal during this time, and it was very profitable. I can’t see too many people risking fortunes because a duke got embarrassed doing something he was allowed to do only if he didn’t get caught…

I also liked that the heroine was bold and tried to take care of herself. Not sure anyone would mistake her for a boy, even in livery, but I let it slide and enjoyed it for the silly it was.

The hero was … Well, he was not a gentleman. He wasn’t even an alpha hero that sort of gets away with being a bit over bearing. He’s actually full on rude to her, insulting, and arrogant in all the wrong ways.

He’s taken serious liberties with the heroine, and then when he gets caught taking her virginity, well, clearly she was out to get him the whole time! Really?!? I have no idea what the heroine saw in him.

I grew weary pretty quickly of his brooding over the milkmaid, too. Not sure how the circumstances around this belonged on anyone’s shoulders but his.

 

Hero’s father – I wanted to like him, but I didn’t believe he’d allow a misunderstanding between him and his son to continue for 15 years.

 

Plot

After dunking her brother-in-law, the heroine wants to make an escape from the party, but can’t. When the hero won’t help her, she bribes his stable boy for his livery and thinks they are going back to London. It’s only when they’re out in the country that she realizes they went the wrong way. The hero is actually going to his country home because he believes his father is on his deathbed.

Sarcasm ensues when he realizes one of the Scandalous S sisters has stowed away with him, and when he again refuses to help her, she takes matters into her own hands and manages to get fare for the stagecoach.

Like I said, totally not a gentleman. He even leaves her to sleep with the male servants…

Of course the stagecoach is robbed, she’s shot, and the hero gets there just in time to save her.

A bit of falling in love happens as he sees to her recovery. Not entirely sure what she sees in him as he continues to be rather insulting.

More hi-jinks, and when she’s at her lowest point, the hero decides to take her home with him as his fiancee to help his father into the grave. After all, she is a Scandalous S sister. And clearly she has no feelings to worry about being hurt as he so callously uses her to get back at his father, especially when he knows how lost and adrift she is. He’s a gem.

When he gets home, however, he learns his father is hale and whole and nowhere near death. Father and son have some unresolved issues which get resolved amidst more misunderstandings with the heroine.

This is a romance novel, so it all gets resolved and you get your happy ever after ending.

All in all, I wish the heroine would’ve kicked the hero to curb and found someone that knew how to treat another human being. You might like it better if you like celebrity gossip. Maybe not, especially if you want the hero to treat the heroine with a modicum of respect.

 

Character Analysis: Heroes Part 1

After considering heroines I like and dislike, I decided to turn my attention to the hero.

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Like with the heroine posts, I’m going to break it up into a couple of different posts.

One of the things that stuck with me when reading about heroes is that even if I liked them in the story, they might be people I’d give a very different label to in real life. But that discussion is for a separate post.

Stephanie Plum Series – I never really liked Joe Morelli, the sort of male love interest. Not that he wasn’t fine when he was “on screen”. But I disliked the fact that he magically disappeared the moment we put the book down. Never called. No texts, etc.

Journey’s End – The hero was pompous, arrogant and overly worried about his reputation. Yes, his father ran off with his mother’s sister. I get it, a scandal. But when you’re one of the richest men in America, why, exactly, do you care?

Deliver Me from Darkness – Another hero I never really liked. His brooding because he became a vampire was beyond annoying. Pick yourself up and make something of yourself. Use those powers for good, evil, something.

Tycoon Club – I wanted to like the hero, but there was nothing to him. I didn’t like him, but I guess I didn’t dislike him either. A farm boy from Ohio becoming one of the richest men in the world seems like there should be so much more to him . . . Instead, he’s waffling and really not developed at all.

Accidentally Compromising the Duke – I didn’t completely dislike him. I had some sympathy for him, but I did grow tired of the brooding over his first wife’s death and irrationally blaming himself for it.

Secrets for Seducing a Royal Bodyguard – This hero was so busy brooding and trying to ignore his feelings that it almost cost the heroine her life. Um, yeah, not so much.

The Highwayman – I am okay with alpha heroes, but he was beyond the norm. While I had compassion for him, I never liked him. I can get behind a cold and ruthless hero, but this went too far with that.

The Rogue Not Taken – Hero was a complete ass. Again, an alpha hero is one thing, but kicking her when she’s already down, which is the way he treats her through the whole book – I wish the heroine had been more like Elisabeth in Pride and Prejudice and told him off!

 

As I think through all of these scenarios, a couple of things stands out to me:

  1. Brooding Characters –  Get over yourself. You made a mistake, life happened, or life wasn’t fair. Yup, I live in that world, too. When you’re as rich, handsome, powerful or whatever most of these characters are, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for him not stepping up. This leads into point 3 below.
  2. Alpha Male that Bleeds into “Jerk”– I’ve seen this in too many books of late. Yes, there is an alpha male trope out there, and yes, it is a favorite among many readers. I, myself, enjoy them in books if not real life. But there’s a difference between Alpha Male and arrogant jerk. Once you cross that line . .  .
  3. Indecision/Inaction – Perhaps not fair, but I expect the hero to be out there doing something, and I expect that something to either help him reach his goals or help the heroine. A hero who chooses to turn his back on the problem, run away, or be paralyzed by indecision is a quick way to make me dislike him. Sure, he might not like or want the feelings he’s having, but I expect him to do something about them and the something is not run away.

Stress and Creativity

I came across some interesting articles recently about the effect of stress on creativity.

This one, from the American Psychological association, pertains more to grad students, but many of us who work full time and try to fit in writing, family, and whatever else we do have a similar stress load. Even if you don’t, there could be other equally stressing factors.

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Most days feel about like this, but I don’t look so graceful or poised.

 

One from Forbes talking about the effect on creativity and competitiveness at work.

There are quite a few more as it appears this is an area of study, many of which are scientific enough that I have to get out my Six Sigma stuff to understand the statistical analysis.

But this brings me to my point: the scientific community knows that stress kills creativity. While the brain is expending resources on the lower order functions in a fight or flight response to keep us alive, it’s not giving much of anything to higher order functions like creativity.

Makes sense. Your brain doesn’t really differentiate from the stress caused by a lion attack and the stress caused by an impractical deadline at work. So your brain is going to “save” you from the “lion”.

I have been on this fight or flight roller-coaster since early May.

At that time, we learned DD2 was developmentally delayed, and we’ve had to spend a lot of time and money to figure out why and then start her treatment. As part of her treatment, I learned quickly that the medical profession in my area expects you to either be a stay-at-home mom or miss lots of work as there’s no such thing as early morning, night, or weekend appointments. Not even Friday appointments in the summer, as it turns out.

We then got to experience first-hand the joys of insurance denying everything, even things they had told us previously they would cover. Lots of stress fighting them and mostly losing.

About 3 days after my daughter was diagnosed, I was asked to start a massive cost-benefit analysis of shutting down a plant that has been around since 1946. Had to be done completely in secret. So lots of sneaking around and asking weird questions with made-up reasons. The analysis confirmed what the executives expected, the announcement was made, and now I face the constant daily stress of working through the plant closure and reporting out on it.

So, yeah, no wonder my creativity dried up in May and hasn’t really returned.

I need to find a better way to deal with the stress than I have been, but I’ve yet to figure it out.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Bride

Rating: 3.5/5

Title: The Bride

Author: Julie Garwood

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This books takes place during the time of William the Conqueror, so much different time frame than my usual Regency and Victorian fare. It also takes place in The Scottish Highlands, which is not my normal venue.

Characters

Jamie– I mostly liked her. I found her character a bit inconsistent when it came to her husband. I try to chalk it up to being forced to marry someone you’ve known for 5 minutes. Her childhood was hard, but it shaped her into a competent woman. She is a bit on the perfect side. Okay, absolutely perfect. But she has personality and spunk, doing what’s right even if unconventional.

Alec- Alec was your typical alpha hero. He’s not unkind to his new and unwanted English wife, though he does view her as property. If you like alpha heroes, you’ll like him. He’s also, basically, perfect.

 

Plot

Alec has been ordered by his King to marry an Englishwoman and the English King has decreed it will be one of Jamie’s family as her father didn’t pay his taxes.

Alec chooses Jamie, they’re wed, and he takes her back to the Highlands.

Hijinks along the way, including consummating their marriage.

They get back to the Highlands, and Jamie learns she’s married not just a Scottish warrior but a warlord with hundreds of men under his banner.

Her first order of business is healing a gravely injured man which helps earn her the respect of the clan. Even though she’s English.

The underlying plot is twofold. First, someone is trying to kill her as they did his first wife (though in his first wife’s case, they made it look like suicide). Second, there is a desire to unite the clans. Both are accomplished through the heroine’s unconventional actions.

Overall, the plot is mostly fluffy and something to do between steamy scenes.

 

The book was pretty good. An easy read, something new to me, but not something I’m going to be thinking about in a week.

 

How to Make it a 5

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and there just isn’t that much to work with. I also can’t rule out the fact that I’m being unduly harsh because it’s so far out of my normal selections.

And yet, I can like a lot of things outside my norm, so there is more to it. Perhaps it’s how quickly and easily Jamie and Alec fall for each other, even though he’s angry at being forced to take an English bride and she’s being ripped away from her home, family, and everyone she knows.

Maybe how the plot to unite the clans is so easily accomplished, I have to work harder to walk to the end of the driveway to check my mail.

Maybe it’s just how everyone is so damned perfect. Jamie: beautiful beyond measure. Yup. Brave. Check. Skilled rider. Sure. Unparalleled healer. Of course. And the list goes on and on.

Alec is basically just as perfect, but the alpha hero version of it. Handsome? yes. Tall and unbearably strong? You betcha. Wealthy? His sword alone is worth a king’s ransom. Add warlord and close ally of the king, too.

 

Accept this book for what it is: a quick read, not terribly memorable but a fun way to spend an afternoon.

Heroine Analysis: Part 4

For my last look at heroine analysis (for the moment, anyway), I took a look at the novel I am currently revising.

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I finished a first draft and my first revision that made me rewrite the whole ending. The heroine is a slave in a fantasy world trying to escape and find freedom.

So, can I not hate her if she were another author’s heroine?

  • Is she Passive? – She’s a slave, so there are areas that she is a bit passive, especially in response to the hero . . . And yet, she has struggled to find a way out of slavery and she is more than willing to stand up to powerful men. I might need to take another look at her interactions with the hero and make sure they aren’t passive. Make sure the reader understands her thoughts and manipulations to gain her freedom.
  • Do I tell one thing and show another? – I don’t think so. Again, I don’t believe I actively tell you that she’s determined. I try to let you feel how she longs for a family and a place to belong, how it’s shaped her, and how she’s willing to give a lot and risk a lot to get it.
  • Does she do stupid things? – No. At one point in the story, she does flee the safety of the palace, but that’s because she has inside information on bad stuff going down. Not foolish, and I laid the groundwork in advance as to where she’d go and why. I had some stupid in the story, and I cut it during the first rewrite. There may be more, but nothing I can quickly identify. Perhaps on revision two. . .

So, I might need to work with her to make sure she doesn’t come across as passive without making her overstep too many bounds as a slave. At least, I should take another look at it and try to be objective on whether I’d be annoyed with her or not.

Now, does she exhibit the traits I’m looking for to like her?

  • Is she actively involved in solving her problem? – Yes. From the beginning, she is fighting to escape and goes to great lengths to do it.
  • Can you identify with her? – I feel like this is harder as she’s a slave in a fantasy world. But perhaps the reader can identify with her feeling alone, unloved, and wanting a home and a family of her own.
  • No Damsels – I need to be very careful with that on this story. The rewrite I’m working on has been addressing a little of this, but the very dominant alpha hero can make it difficult. I need to balance her doing things to save herself with his need to protect. I might need to foil him more, throw much harder obstacles in his path. This will have to come through more on my second or third rewrite.

 

I think the heroine here has potential, and I’ll need to really focus on making her active, not letting the hero do too much rescuing, and showing her strength and determination. Thoughts to keep in mind as I begin the next round of revisions.

What Do I Want Out of Writing

I plan on thinking through the heroes I like and dislike and giving them a bit of a write-up, but first, I wanted to take some time to explore a question Mariah Avix asked me a little while ago.

What do I want out of my writing?

As I think through this, there’s the dream you have much like when I was a kid playing tennis and dreaming I’d be the next Billie Jean King. So, sure, I dream about being the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. It’s the pinnacle of the profession.

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But what do I want?

I wish I could say: to be a good writer and recognized as such. But that’s not entirely true. I want more than that. I want people I don’t know to read what I’ve written, enjoy it, and want to read another story written by me.

I don’t ever expect writing to pay the bills like my day job does. After all, I picked my profession partially because I was good at it and partially because it keeps a roof over our heads. But I want my writing to pay the bills and more. I want to get to spend my days dreaming up characters, worlds, and stories.

But that’s only a half-truth, too.

I like the analytical aspect of my day job. I enjoy being handed a problem and digging into it, scraping together the numbers and making them dance. Finding a solution in the data, or at least an answer.

The truth is somewhere in between.

I want writing to be profitable enough that maybe I could go part-time on the day job and part-time on writing and still keep a roof over my family’s head.

But in the world of writing, that seems an almost impossible feat.

And I hate failure.

So perhaps that’s why I set my goal lower. One I thought possible to achieve. Write well enough that it pays for itself. If I need to take a class, or if I need a website etc. that the writing pays for it rather than my day job.

Reach for the stars, but don’t quit your day job.

Not exactly inspirational. But the truth seldom is.